Yes. This is the game I wanted.
For years, we've been treated to WWE wrestling games where the mechanics have become increasingly complicated. A couple of years ago, a spin-off title, Legends of Wrestlemania, was released; it was meant to provide a simpler alternative to the "simulation" style of wrestling games. While I never got to play it extensively, I appreciated the principles it embraced. Now, we have WWE All-Stars, and I can finally say that there's a wrestling game out there that's made for me, even if it's a little rough around the edges.
Admittedly, this is not an aesthetically impressive title at first glance. While graphical assets are certainly in high definition, they contain somewhat stiffer movement and animation compared to even older mainline WWE games. Venues aren't very lively, there isn't much in the way of special effects, and aside from signature wrestler theme songs, there's very little music. Also, here we are in 2011, yet the announcers still repeat themselves every few lines. Even worse are the wrestlers themselves — so many of them are simply overly "beefy," for lack of a better term. Muscles bulge everywhere. Proportions look odd. Some of them look like they can barely move at all, let alone stiffly.
However, this is one place where looks can be deceiving; while the wrestlers look like barely mobile slabs of meat in cut scenes and stills, when the controller is in your hands, they are anything but. The animation and weight of the wrestlers can be instantly felt the second they're taken into a fight, and it's not long before a "flow" establishes itself during the match, consisting of punches, kicks, blocks, grabs, reversals, whips, drops — anything that comes to mind. By experimenting with your chosen wrestler, you will discover which moves follow easily from other moves, and which wrestlers have a much easier time moving around the ring, flying through the air, tossing opponents or executing aerial juggle combos. (Read that again: aerial juggle combos in a wrestling game.)
In addition, wrestling moves seen on TV or in other "simulation" titles have been exaggerated here with flash and style. The screen darkens, and slow-motion takes place for special slams; wrestlers yield color-coded trails during certain actions; and specials and finishing moves cause wrestlers to jump higher or hit the ring harder than in real life. Before and after a match, the game may look slightly worse than your average WWE-licensed title, but during a match, the screen is awash with color and alive with feats of awesome, and the muted sound of the game is covered by the yells and laughter of you and your friends.
All of this is helped by the game's controls. All wrestlers perform the same core types of moves with the same button presses; only the weight and animations of the wrestlers provide any sort of distinction, but it's enough. Furthermore, the game provides helpful reminders of basic and advanced controls as you fight. This allows even beginning players to not fall too far behind over the course of a match. It gives the feeling of an arcade-style, anything-goes game like Saturday Night Slam Masters or Rumble Roses. This is a game where you can just sit back and slam-toss buddies around with as little or as much performance pressure as you want to impose. It doesn't feel like a game that will be sold or that will stay untouched on the shelf for long periods of time simply because the time investment required to become competent is too great.
As a multiplayer game and fighting engine, WWE All-Stars excels; however, as a single-player game, it is merely okay. The game boasts an average amount of "campaign" content at best, centered on dream match-ups over the different eras of the WWE. To their credit, these match-ups are well presented with either expositional pre-rendered cut scenes or mash-ups of live promo footage framing them. They're short but full of "past-versus-present" fan service and serve as good quick-and-dirty reasons to provide match-ups. However, once they're done, they're done, and the dedicated can blow through them in a few days, tops. There is also a lack of content in terms of match types, arenas and create-a-wrestler options when compared to the mainline WWE titles. Even worse is that with all of this lack of content comes some excruciatingly long load times. Even installing this game to the Xbox 360's hard drive doesn't help in the slightest.
Finally, there is the online functionality, which is a mixed bag. If you can get a match going, performance is quite solid. Playing one-on-one with friends cross-country proved to be no problem in terms of lag. It's playing against random people that presents the problem, as there are still reports of people not being penalized for purposefully disconnecting in the middle of a match, lag when too many human players are involved, and random disconnects that happen regardless. Exercise caution.
At its core, WWE All-Stars fills a gap that desperately needs to be filled: a fighting game with a low learning curve in terms of execution. It still contains enough engine depth for players to feel that that their skills are being tested, and controls are responsive enough to make the game feel fun. It doesn't require a million move motions to memorize, and it's a great fit for kids and adults alike. This is the kind of game that needs to see the light of day more often.
Hopefully, we can get a sequel to add even more characters, more single-player (co-op, perhaps?) content and addresses its online functionality issues. At the moment, however, this is a wonderful game to bust out amongst friends, and it's easily worth keeping in your library just for that. Even with its easily addressable faults, WWE All-Stars manages to brightly shine because it got the basics absolutely right.
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